Emergency planning has been top of our agenda due to the outbreak of the Coronavirus. The disruption to everyday living has been significant and no less so in schools where it has been very much a case of plans changing as government advice changes.
As a public body, our emergency planning is not primarily about budgets, we are funded on student numbers and operational needs and fortunately our day-to-day income is not directly affected by emergencies.
That is not to say that some budget considerations should not be assessed during this disruption, but just how do you plan and budget for such events?
In the education industry we are used to producing emergency plans and all schools and academies will have a version of a Business Continuity Plan. It is that document that we revisit, usually on an annual basis or when there is a significant change in management.
It ensures that all of our action flow charts are fit for purpose and accurate and we have a plan if the worst should happen. This may again be added to in the event of weather disruption or more recently Brexit.
It largely focuses on the operational aspect of such events with a focus of least disruption for our students and their learning and rightly so.
Alongside this runs the finance Risk Register, a document that is statutory in academies and good practise in maintained schools often required by the local authority.
This is the document that measures the impact of any significant disruptions or alterations that will have a financial effect on the school and its budget forecasting and management. As a dynamic document it enables school leaders to make an informed decision based upon the level of associated risk.
Part of the process of risk management is to look at the impact of emergencies that may cause school closure thus impacting on learning and exams. There are several areas which could have a financial risk.
We are all aware that staffing is our largest expenditure and the impact of absence can be extremely detrimental to the budget. At approximately 70 per cent of the budget, it is by far our biggest and most expensive resource.
Any loss in this area can have a significant impact, particularly if you are a small school. Considering the impact of any staff absence when writing your school staffing strategy is good practise and where possible providing a financial allowance when budget setting.
An emergency plan should always look at ways you can collapse classes, using technology and achieve collaboration with other schools to share staff in the event of an emergency.
When looking at staffing we tend to think of classroom-based staff as they have a direct impact on teaching and learning. Consideration also needs to be given to the support staff who keep your school running.
Imagine the difficulties that would arise if there were no staff to open and keep the school stocked and clean or anyone to work in reception and manage back office functions such as paying bills or first day calling.
Using the Coronovirus epidemic and the expectation on provision of free school meals as an example, this consideration also needs to be given to your catering provision.
While it would be impossible to have a plan that covers all situations, understanding your staff skill set will enable you to have contingencies in place for all eventualities.
Having staff from whatever department taking second subjects or even support staff who are able to manage classes adds an extra element of provision.
Processes such as collecting data on availability in bad weather, ability to attend school in adverse conditions and out of work commitments will all give you a head start when looking at an appropriate management strategy in an emergency.
Your Senior Leadership Team will always be your first point of call but having a second and third string for emergencies is good planning.
Emergency management plan
Access to school or site in the event of an emergency can have a cost. While we all have insurance, there are excesses to pay and there may be costs that fall outside of your insurance.
Things such as fallen trees, building problems, asbestos removal, to name a few, could all become a cost to the school that you hadn’t budgeted for.
An emergency management plan will always look at physicality, the ability to access your school and provide services, good practise would be to ensure that it is a consideration during budget setting.
The risk from other areas of school operations that can be affected can be mitigated through effective everyday good planning and process. As a school, you will already be aware of the financial risk attached to contracts and terms and conditions of provision of services.
Having an up to date contracts register which shows terms and conditions, early withdrawal clauses and emergency procedures can save time and money. Along with this a list of contacts for easy contact if necessary.
Making sure that you can access important sources of information such as your information management system and finance systems remotely will pay dividends in an emergency.
The data for staff and students being accessible offsite will ensure instant access for parents, carers or next of kin as well as medical data if needed. The ability to be able to pay salaries, suppliers and for emergency supplies can be invaluable during an emergency.
You may feel that your school is not in a position to be able to allocate a budget to emergency planning, we are all aware of the restrictions of the budgets.
However, now is a good time to consider it, we have had an injection of increased funding and before we allocate it to something else it would be prudent to have some set aside ‘for a rainy day’.
At the end of every year, if you are fortunate, there will have been no need to spend it. Of course, if you are a maintained school this will have to be considered to keep within the balance control mechanism.
It is important to remember, not all emergency planning needs to have a huge cost, including the consideration in good strategic planning would mean that it can be an integral part of the budget setting programme and even a financial cushion at year end.
Here’s what to look at
Emergency Planning in strategic budget setting is best practise and can be a way of accumulating a cushion at year end but not all emergency planning needs to cost – consider:
- Collaboration with other schools.
- Resource sharing.
- Use remote strategies for MIS and Finance processes.
- Plan your emergency plan strategy in advance.
- Make your staff aware.
- Plan, plan, plan.
Sue Birchall is a consultant, speaker, writer, trainer and business manager at The Malling School, Kent.